In this article, I will go into the disturbing behaviour used by narcissists called smear campaigning. The smear campaign is one of the many tools a narcissist has in order to try to manipulate, control and/or devalue you. Experiencing this behaviour can drain your energy and create a lot of anxiety, frustration, and anger.
When a narcissist is smear campaigning you, it’s a very tough spot to be in. This person you once loved is now brutally attacking you with all kinds of (public) blaming, lies, and false allegations. They might even gather an army of flying monkeys (other people that are under their control) to support their web of lies.
The smearing is very personal as it’s directly aimed at you, your life, your identity, and your environment. A narcissist will (ab)use your strengths and vulnerabilities to customize the smear campaign to be as painful as possible.
You could be dealing with a narcissistic ex and possibly you have children with this narcissist. You could also be dealing with a narcissistic parent, or a friend or lover you have a lot of mutual friends with. In all situations, it’s a very painful and tough situation.
It can be quite demanding to learn how to deal with a smear campaign but know it’s possible and that you will be able to handle it. The answer is surprisingly simple, which is not engaging, being calm, silent and to stay in integrity. The answer might be simple but the road to really doing it and being able to shift the attention to yourself again can be very challenging.
I hope this article can be helpful for you when dealing with a smear campaign. In this article, I will first explain what a smear campaign is and how and why a narcissist does it. I will then share some tips on how to possibly deal with a smear campaign.
What is a smear campaign and how is it done?
The word smear campaign already tells you what it means. The narcissist will smear your name to your friends and family and possibly tries to take a head start in doing so. When a narcissist does a smear campaign they try to gain bystanders and sympathy by looking like a victim or hero instead of the inhuman narcissistic abuser they actually are.
I wrote an article explaining the stages of the narcissistic abuse cycle in which I explain more about how narcissistic abuse works. The smear campaign can be seen as part of the devaluing stage of narcissistic abuse and is one of the more escalated behaviours of a narcissist.
It could be seen as the opposite of the full discard or abandonment where the narcissist simply disappears and searches for other/new narcissistic supply. The smear campaign is actually still a commitment from the narcissist to you and quite some attention and effort goes into smearing you.
So what happens exactly during a smear campaign? The narcissist will portray you in an untruthful manner, which could be as being crazy, an addict, unstable, bipolar, a gold digger, cheater, alcoholic, insane and so forth. They will create numerous lies, exaggerations, suspicions, half-truths and false allegations about you and your behaviour. Possibly they mirror the situation and therefore the lies could be convincing to others.
Creating a fake persona of you
Everything a narcissist does in the smear campaign is attack your reputation, credibility, and sanity. They thus create a fake persona of you that matches their own fake persona of being a victim or hero. This fake persona of you is based on lies, half-truths and false allegations. In general, they will try to look like the hero, victim or the one that tried very hard and long to make the relationship work.
The smear campaign is thus not about telling some simple lies or gossip about you. It goes further than that. A narcissist has no boundaries or conscience and this means they could use anything to smear you. These false allegations and cruel statements can go very far. It’s devastating someone you once loved can do something so cruel and brutal which can make it hard to not engage.
Not every narcissist will use a smear campaign. Some might use silent treatment and a full discard when ending a relationship. You can read more about the silent treatment in this article. When a narcissist uses a smear campaign it means they feel the need to protect their public fake persona. For the narcissist, it can feel like pure survival protecting their identity. They can even be so committed to their truth that they will actually believe it themselves.
The effect of a smear campaign directly on you
So what’s the effect of a smear campaign on you? A natural way of responding to a smear campaign is fighting for your truth and getting justification. You want to defend yourself from all these awful allegations and lies. It’s a good thing to stand up for yourself but when dealing with a narcissist it will be a double-edged sword.
It’s always a draining experience to play the manipulative game with a narcissist and it will not lead to anything you aim for. The narcissist is skilled in this game and has no conscience in playing it. It means you will lose if you play. Anything you do will probably be proof of what they’re saying about you.
The effect of a smear campaign through your environment
The smear campaign can really harm you if your friends and family are being manipulated. A narcissist tries to control or disturb your support system which can lead to being isolated, fearful and feeling stuck. As a victim of a smear campaign, you might lose trust in some friends.
It’s possible you learn who are your real friends and those that aren’t. The smear campaign is thus tough to deal with and especially challenging when the narcissist and the victim share a lot of mutual friends, have the same work or have children together.
Examples of smear campaigning
There are quite some examples of on what levels a smear campaign can happen. A narcissist can use triangulation and flying monkeys to smear you. Flying monkeys are people under control of the narcissist and they are stuck in the narcissist’s web of control. I wrote an article about the web of control if you want to read more about this.
Why does someone believe a smearing narcissist? A normal person could be tricked into thinking a narcissist tells them the truth. This is because they don’t suspect someone would make up terrible stories about someone else to smear them. Therefore, people could believe their smear campaign at first.
The narcissist uses flying monkeys to abuse by proxy, spread rumors, gossip, and to create outside pressure on you. This way their influence can feel large and frightening because you could become anxious and think everyone agrees with the narcissist. Sadly, flying monkeys seem to believe the false reality the narcissist created and they possibly try convincing others to believe it as well.
There are a lot of possible ways a smear campaign can happen. I will go into five examples of on what level a smear campaign can play out:
1. Testing your friends
A narcissist you’re married to or have a relationship with could test your friends by making some passive-aggressive comments about you. This is how they see which friends are on their side or sensitive to being influenced by them. It starts slow with small things and could eventually escalate to more humiliating comments.
You could react angrily or verbally towards the narcissist or by withdrawing yourself from the situation. Both could be manipulated into being confirmation of their point. Doing this, they try to isolate you from your friends.
2. Your family
A narcissist could try to isolate you from your family. If your family seems to not like the narcissist they will have even more reason to try this. They will smear your family to you and try planting seeds of negative thoughts about your family in your head.
This might be that your family is dysfunctional or doesn’t really want to see you happy due to jealousy. They could say your family wants to control you and doesn’t think your independent. These are all ways to create a distance between you and your family.
The narcissist could, on top of that, also try to be increasingly friendly and charming to your family when you’re not around. The narcissist could claim you’re the one that is dysfunctional and that he/she doesn’t understand why you’re pulling back from your family. Family is important, right? In this example, the smearing goes both ways. It’s again a disturbing way to create more distance between you and your family.
3. Your work
It could be your work is targeted for the smear campaign. Your work and status could be a threat to them. It makes you independent and it might be harder to influence you. If something happens at your work and you share your stories they could emphasize all the negative and exaggerate it. They will not simply listen to your stories but specifically add fuel to the fire.
A narcissist might claim your work is taking advantage of you and your colleagues/boss only think about themselves. When this is done the aim to create negative and hostile feelings towards work and thereby a more stressful environment. Some narcissists could even try to decrease your ability to work well such as making you very tired by disturbing your sleep or making you anxious.
A popular way of narcissists to smear you is (ab)using the court system. They could use lawsuits to scare or intimidate you. When in divorce they will attack you with great amounts of paperwork, changing demands, changing agreements and all sorts of frustrating tactics.
Anything will be used to smear or destroy you. Sadly, there are quite some narcissists that are advocates themselves. It can be very brutal and unfair when this happens.
5. In public
A narcissist could try to make you look bad in public. This could be to strangers or for example your neighbors. A narcissist could try to trigger you into a tantrum so others will see you in that emotional state. You might feel ashamed or they will use it to convince others you are crazy.
Why does a narcissist use a smear campaign?
So why does a narcissist use a smear campaign? A narcissist can use a smear campaign to work towards the discard stage themselves or after you break up or go no contact with them. In both ways, it’s a form of damage control.
A narcissist doesn’t want others to know the truth about them. They want to avoid being embarrassed and having to show any insecurity to the outside world. It means a narcissist will do anything to keep their inflated superior fake persona in place.
There could be a great lack of self-worth, shame, and fear of rejection deep within the narcissist. It would then be all buried underneath an identity, created by ego, that started believing in itself. A narcissist never takes any responsibility and fully believes their own superiority. Therefore there is no authenticity and no foundation for truth. Only the fake persona exists and emptiness remains beneath it.
When starting to understand the narcissist’s mind you might see the logic of the smear campaign. It follows from a need to control, protect their created identity and to win the game.
It seems like justification and fighting for your truth is the essence of smear campaigning. This holds for both the narcissist and the victim. The narcissist does everything to prove their story and to prove you’re worthless. If the smearing is not true, it would mean to a narcissist that their own fake persona isn’t true.
Clearly, it’s all a lie but a narcissist believes their own created identity. It’s a blind spot. This set up shows how it can feel like pure survival for the narcissist.
All the above shows the smear campaign is another disturbing manipulative game as a result of the unending needs of a narcissist. Now, I will go into how to possibly deal with all this negativity of the smear campaign.
7 tips on how to deal with a smear campaign
1. Do not engage
The most important solution is to not engage. Do nothing! It’s easier said than done because it fights all your natural impulses. It’s logical you want to defend yourself when a narcissist makes all these false allegations but it’s necessary to stay in integrity and be calm.
Any engaging is narcissistic supply. If you rage at them, smear them back or threaten with court it will feed them. Even if you simply ask them to stop it will be a form of engagement and thus supply to them. If they can tell you’re struggling with it or trying to hide from them it feeds them as well. Any reaction or attention to them or their flying monkeys is something they enjoy.
Engagement means your playing the manipulative game and will lead to them gearing up and escalate their attempts to win the game. When the narcissist realizes their attacks sort no effect at all, they mostly will stop their attempts.
Thus, try not to engage and compliment yourself for not engaging and having control over yourself. Precisely when you feel like proving or defending yourself is the moment to walk away. When not engaging you can work on healing and your recovery.
2. Find out what triggers you
I think it’s important and can be useful to investigate and analyze what triggers you when the narcissist does something in their smear campaign.
It could be you want to justify what’s going on and work hard to get the truth out. It could be you just want it to stop because it hurts you or is painful to you. You might still care about what this other person does or say.
Try to find out what triggers you and write it down. Write down what happens when you hear an awful lie. How does it make you feel to hear this lie? Where do you feel this in your body?
You know the narcissist is unreliable and gives only negativity. Realize the sadness in what they’re doing. Know you can’t control their behaviour and know as well you’re not responsible for their behaviour. It could be very helpful to do an exercise of conscious breathing afterward, which is part of the following tip.
3. Prepare for the narcissist playing the victim and trust your truth
A narcissist has a box full of tricks and manipulative behaviour they can use. Get knowledge about possible narcissistic behaviour in order to be prepared for what’s coming. The narcissist likes to play the victim and mirror what has happened.
They could accuse you of being narcissistic and that you’re the reason the marriage or relationship ended. It doesn’t even matter if you have proof. The narcissist will share their story to as many people as possible and could even believe they’re right. A narcissistic parent loves to play the victim and will list everything they have done for you and you being so ungrateful or evil.
It’s all very painful and disturbing but know that you can trust your own truth. You know what happened and what’s the truth. Don’t try to convince a narcissist of what happened. You will not get an apology, remorse or normal communication.
4. Work on emotional detachment
It’s essential to work on emotional detachment from the narcissist and start shifting the attention from the narcissist to yourself. The trap of a smear campaign is to react emotionally with anger, embarrassment or fear. Those reactions could be confirmations to others of what a narcissist told them about you.
You could be in a no-contact situation or you might be the child of a narcissistic parent. If going no contact is not an option (right away) you could use the grey rock method for dealing with a narcissist. You can read about this method in my in-depth article about the grey rock method.
A narcissist has the power to hurt you only if you let them. Focus your energy on other things than defending yourself.
There might be some people influenced by the narcissist and they might never be brought back to the truth. It’s essential to let them go and detach. You can’t hang on to an old friendship if it’s not there anymore. Thank the friendship for what it was and then choose to protect your energy and focus on the friends you’re close with now.
You can’t have friends that are easily fooled and manipulated into believing all kinds of lies about you. A real friend will know you’re not capable of whatever the narcissist is accusing you of. It will become clear who your friends are which is a good (and yet painful) thing.
5. Gather support around you
It would be great if you could gather some support around you to help you stay sane and strong. You could also get a therapist for professional help. It is a challenge to deal with all this negativity and energy-draining when under attack by smear campaigning.
Therefore, try to gather sincere, kind and loving persons around you so you can share your story. They can help you with not engaging.
6. Zen approach
Stay silent, be friendly and normal and it will be clear to others the narcissist is a very disturbed person with a lot of negativity. It’s very tough to stay silent but it will lead to positive results.
Most people will get tired if someone can’t move on from smearing and talking smack. It’s just bad energy and most people don’t like that. Only the people that enjoy gossip and negativity might like it because they have the same tendency of feeling better about themselves from the sorrow of others. Luckily, you probably don’t want anything from these negative people anyway.
I wrote an article about shifting attention to yourself again using conscious breathing if you want to learn more about this. Mindful breathing can help you restore your energy, getting your thoughts straight and acknowledging feelings and emotions.
The Zen approach is a combination of conscious breathing and staying silent. With this approach dealing with a smear campaign becomes an internal process. There is much strength in silence, integrity, and dignity. You simply don’t play these manipulative games. Staying silent is a powerful message to everyone that is involved.
Silence creates doubt on the person smearing and allows the truth to prevail. It will create a discrepancy between the fake persona the narcissists smears you to be and the person you are with beautiful and positive energy. To the narcissist, it will become clear they have no power or control over you.
7. Focus on what you can do and focus on your energy
Working on yourself is the greatest gift you can give to yourself. Shifting attention to yourself is essential. A narcissist in a way forces you to eventually do this. You will only have one place you can go to and that is within yourself.
All their negative energy will stay with them and you protect your own energy.
My experience got me on a path of Buddhism and working on myself. I learned I was always trying to help others and trying to think for others. There was a distance with my own needs and feelings and I needed to restore this connection.
We all have a lot of thoughts, doubts, feelings, and beliefs. But behind all of that, we can only be present in the here and now. It’s about finding yourself again and accepting the things you can’t change.
Come home to yourself and work on being you!
Trust your truth and focus on you
In a way, the smear campaign is not even about you. It’s about them. Therefore, it’s time to shift your attention to yourself again. You are not responsible for the behaviour of others and you can’t control the behaviour of others. Silence exposes the narcissist for who they are for those that see. You will never win over those that don’t see.
Try to focus your energy on yourself and positive things. There is a lot of life after dealing with a narcissist. The conscious breathing, silence and not engaging will help you with your self-worth and confidence. Show others and yourself knowing your own truth is enough for you.
You deserve your own love, compassion, and kindness. You are enough and I hope you know that.
I hope this article provided you with some helpful insights. I wish you strength and more kindness in the future!
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4 thoughts on “The narcissist’s smear campaign: about why and how they do it and how to deal with a smear campaign”
thank you so much for your article, really helped me as a true victim of a sociopath. For nearly 1 year I have been dealing with the sociopath and smear campaigning, and yes she has lots of flying monkeys, but with my silence and pain I feel, I have been able to overcome the negative gossiping. One has to remain strong, and I know I can. A true victim here. Thank you again what a great article. Susan
I so needed this article today. I live in a small town and have been a victim of a narcissistic smear campaign from my former best friend for years now. Right when I think her gossiping has toned down, I find out once again that she’s still hard at work. It’s hard to not retaliate when I’m loaded with ammo. It’s a battle everyday to take the high road and stay silent. Thank you for your encouraging article.
I’m sorry about your experience Laura. It’s very brutal. Wish you strength in this and more kindness in the future!
I’m just entering. I accidentally caught him starting his smear campaign with his worker. It’s so angering and challenging to stay quiet, because it’s I know what’s going on.
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